Wheat (Triticum spp.) is one of the founder crops that likely drove the Neolithic transition to sedentary agrarian societies in the Fertile Crescent more than 10,000 years ago. Identifying genetic modifications underlying wheat’s domestication requires knowledge about the genome of its allo-tetraploid progenitor, wild emmer (T. turgidum ssp. dicoccoides). We report a 10.1-gigabase assembly of the 14 chromosomes of wild tetraploid wheat, as well as analyses of gene content, genome architecture, and genetic diversity. With this fully assembled polyploid wheat genome, we identified the causal mutations in Brittle Rachis 1 (TtBtr1) genes controlling shattering, a key domestication trait. A study of genomic diversity among wild and domesticated accessions revealed genomic regions bearing the signature of selection under domestication. This reference assembly will serve as a resource for accelerating the genome-assisted improvement of modern wheat varieties.
Floret fertility is a key determinant of the number of grains per inflorescence in cereals. During the evolution of wheat (Triticum sp.), floret fertility has increased, such that current bread wheat (Triticum aestivum) cultivars set three to five grains per spikelet. However, little is known regarding the genetic basis of floret fertility. The locus Grain Number Increase 1 (GNI1) is shown here to be an important contributor to floret fertility. GNI1 evolved in the Triticeae through gene duplication. The gene, which encodes a homeodomain leucine zipper class I (HD-Zip I) transcription factor, was expressed most abundantly in the most apical floret primordia and in parts of the rachilla, suggesting that it acts to inhibit rachilla growth and development. The level of GNI1 expression has decreased over the course of wheat evolution under domestication, leading to the production of spikes bearing more fertile florets and setting more grains per spikelet. Genetic analysis has revealed that the reduced-function allele GNI-A1 contributes to the increased number of fertile florets per spikelet. The RNAi-based knockdown of GNI1 led to an increase in the number of both fertile florets and grains in hexaploid wheat. Mutants carrying an impaired GNI-A1 allele out-yielded WT allele carriers under field conditions. The data show that gene duplication generated evolutionary novelty affecting floret fertility while mutations favoring increased grain production have been under selection during wheat evolution under domestication.
Seminal roots constitute the initial wheat root system and provide the main route for water absorption during early stages of development. Seminal root number (SRN) varies among species. However, the mechanisms through which SRN is controlled and in turn contribute to environmental adaptation are poorly understood. Here, we show that SRN increased upon wheat domestication from 3 to 5 due to the activation of 2 root primordia that are suppressed in wild wheat, a trait controlled by loci expressed in the germinating embryo. Suppression of root primordia did not limit water uptake, indicating that 3 seminal roots is adequate to maintain growth during seedling development. The persistence of roots at their primordial state promoted seedling recovery from water stress through reactivation of suppressed primordia upon rehydration. Our findings suggest that under well-watered conditions, SRN is not a limiting factor, and excessive number of roots may be costly and maladaptive. Following water stress, lack of substantial root system suppresses growth and rapid recovery of the root system is essential for seedling recovery. This study underscores SRN as key adaptive trait that was reshaped upon domestication. The maintenance of roots at their primordial state during seedling development may be regarded as seedling protective mechanism against water stress.
HighlightGenetic and phenotypic analysis of wild and domesticated tetraploid wheat suggests differential selection of grain and embryo weight during wheat evolution under domestication.
Establishment of seedlings is a key factor in achievement of uniform field stands and, consequently, stable yields. Under Mediterranean conditions, soil moisture in the upper layer is limited and seedlings may be exposed to frequent dehydration events. The presence of the Reduced height (Rht)-B1b and Rht-D1b semi-dominant dwarfing alleles results in insensitivity to gibberellin (GAI) and, hence, poor emergence from deep sowing. Introduction of alternative dwarfing genes and, thereby, preservation of the gibberellin response (GAR) and coleoptile length, contributes to better emergence from deep sowing. Initially 47 wheat cultivars carrying different Rht alleles were screened for their ability to emerge from deep sowing, and then 17 of them were selected for detailed physiological characterization in the field. The modern wheat lines containing GAI alleles showed significantly lower percentages of emergence from deep sowing than the GAR lines, i.e., 52 and 74%, respectively. Differences in early developmental stages were associated with grain yield, as indicated by a reduction of 37.3% in the modern GAI cultivars. Our results demonstrate the potential of alternative dwarfing genes for improving seedling establishment and grain yields in Mediterranean-like environments.
Grain yield is a highly polygenic trait determined by the number of grains per unit area, as well as by grain weight. In wheat, grain number and grain weight are usually negatively correlated. Yet, the genetic basis underlying trade-off between the two is mostly unknown. Here, we fine-mapped a grain weight QTL using wild emmer introgressions in a durum wheat background, and showed that grain weight is associated with the GNI-A1 gene, a regulator of floret fertility. In-depth characterization of grain number and grain weight indicated that suppression of distal florets by the wild emmer GNI-A1 allele increase weight of proximal grains in basal and central spikelets due to alteration in assimilate distribution. Re-sequencing of GNI-A1 in tetraploid wheat demonstrated the rich allelic repertoire of the wild emmer gene pool, including a rare allele which was present in two gene copies and contained a non-synonymous mutation in the C-terminus of the protein. Using an F2 population generated from a cross between wild emmer accessions Zavitan, which carries the rare allele, and TTD140, we demonstrated that this unique polymorphism is associated with grain weight, independent of grain number. Moreover, we showed, for the first time, that GNI-A1 proteins are transcriptional activators and that selection targeted compromised activity of the protein. Our finding expand the knowledge of the genetic basis underlying trade-off between key yield components and may contribute to breeding efforts for enhanced grain yield.
Roots are the main channel for water and nutrient uptake in plants. Optimization of root architecture provides a viable strategy to improve nutrient and water uptake efficiency and maintain crop productivity under water-limiting and nutrient-poor conditions. We know little, however, about the genetic control of root development in wheat, a crop supplying 20% of global calorie and protein intake. To improve our understanding of the genetic control of seminal root development in wheat, we conducted a high-throughput screen for variation in seminal root number using an exome-sequenced mutant population derived from the hexaploid wheat cultivar Cadenza. The screen identified seven independent mutants with homozygous and stably altered seminal root number phenotypes. One mutant, Cadenza0900, displays a recessive extra seminal root number phenotype, while six mutants (Cadenza0062, Cadenza0369, Cadenza0393, Cadenza0465, Cadenza0818 and Cadenza1273) show lower seminal root number phenotypes most likely originating from defects in the formation and activation of seminal root primordia. Segregation analysis in F 2 populations suggest that the phenotype of Cadenza0900 is controlled by multiple loci whereas the Cadenza0062 phenotype fits a 3:1 mutant:wild-type segregation ratio characteristic of dominant single gene action. This work highlights the potential to use the sequenced wheat mutant population as a forward genetic resource to uncover novel variation in agronomic traits, such as seminal root architecture.
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